Preview Footage: The Dark Knight Rises [Report]

on Saturday, December 17, 2011
'The Dark Knight Rises' prologue @ BFI IMAX (14 Dec '11) // Words: Ced Yuen

In 2007, Warner Bros. released a prologue of 'The Dark Knight', screened before 'I Am Legend' at selected IMAX cinemas. The 6-minute footage, which showed off the new Joker’s idea of a bank heist, was a hit. It helped to generate an unstoppable wave of hype and the finished product smashed the box office record in the following year. 'The Dark Knight Rises' is getting the same treatment, with another 6 minutes of footage aimed at getting people to the cinema on Day 1.

The prologue serves as an introduction to the film’s villain, Bane (Tom Hardy). A lot of effort has gone into making him a more formidable opponent than the Joker, and it seems effective. Built like a tank, with a strange mask strapped to his face, he resembles a cross between Hannibal Lector and a rabid Pit Bull.

A 'Mission: Impossible'-style operation, where Bane gets aboard a CIA aircraft and stages an accident, demonstrates his prowess as a strategist. Without any particular quirks or snappy one-liners, he appears to be a villain that simply gets the job done. In this respect, he seems more capable and immediately more realistic. Bane is not as colourful as the Joker but he is far more threatening. That is, until he speaks.

Wearing a mask, his voice is distorted. According to on-set accounts, Hardy found it so difficult to communicate that he had to resort to off-screen hand signals. Alarmingly, it seems that nobody thought to re-record his lines. There is nothing wrong with a masked voice – Liam Neeson sounded distorted when he wore a gas mask in the final act of 'Batman Begins' – but his words were perfectly audible.

Tom Hardy’s voice, however, is muffled beyond comprehension. The effect is compounded with the inclusion of sound effects and Hans Zimmer’s booming score. Imagine Darth Vader, voiced by Sean Connery with a mouthful of caramel. It doesn’t matter if the actors look the part when the dialogue has as much dramatic tension as a ride on the London Underground.

This brings to mind all the criticism that 'The Dark Knight' received because of Batman’s voice. Serious, dramatic scenes were handicapped because Christian Bale was unnecessarily incoherent. I fear that there will be scenes where the dialogue simply alternates between gruff mumbling and muffled mumbling. Christopher Nolan has promised “additional sound work” during post-production, so hopefully the problem will be resolved.

I came away from the preview with mixed feelings. The sound issue is a major concern, but I was impressed by everything else on offer. The rest of the film seems to be shaping up nicely. Everything looks fantastic. As was the case with 'The Dark Knight', IMAX cameras were used for the more visually exciting scenes. The prologue’s highlight is a stunning sequence involving one plane dragging another out of the sky. The sizzle reel at the end hints at many more such set pieces, all of which look spectacular.

After the critically acclaimed first two instalments, the bar has been set high. 'The Dark Knight Rises' is in a very difficult position: not only must it be a good sequel, it must be also be a worthy series finale. Will it succumb to the Third Movie Curse? From what I saw, I don’t think so. I believe in Christopher Nolan.

The prologue of 'The Dark Knight Rises' will be screened at selected IMAX cinemas with 'Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol', released in the UK on December 21st.

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